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After double digit rent hike, Toronto tenants consider how to fight back together

The Livmore High Park Tenants' Association recently hung red flags from their balconies to highlight concerns they have with their building. Now, they're discussing the possibility of joining other tenants across the city in a rent strike to try and gain some leverage in their fight for lower prices.

Tenants say they're facing rent increases of up to 12%

Two people stand in front of a door with a sign on it.

After fleeing his home in Ukraine, Volodymyr Komliev and his family have found themselves a new place to live in a High Park apartment building — but after hearing about the rent increases his neighbours experienced this year, he's worried if they'll be able to stay.

Komliev said when they looked for a new place to live with their four-year-old daughter, they knew a big city would be expensive. But they didn't expect rents could increase so much each year — some tenants saying they've received between six to 11 per cent year-over-year hikes, according to the building's tenant association.

After a year and a half of living out of suitcases, Komliev doesn't want to have to leave the building. His hope is to maintain stability for his daughter.

"We're still kind of trying to keep her not really aware of the situation and, yeah, just telling her that we're on an adventure. But she keeps asking from time to time, like, what is our home?" he said.

"It's a little terrifying to think of it. We [might] need to once again pack everything and move somewhere else."

Komliev isn't alone in his concerns. The building is home to the Livmore High Park Tenants' Association, who recently hung red flags from their balconies to highlight concerns they have with their rent. Now, they're discussing the possibility of joining other tenants across the city in a rent strike to try and gain some leverage in their fight for lower prices. For his part, Komliev said as a newcomer he'd want to learn more about what a rent strike could mean before committing to one.

In March, multiple tenants who live in the building told CBC Toronto they had been told their rent would increase nearly 12 per cent. Because the building was built after Nov. 15, 2018, it's not subject to provincial rent control, which capped at increases at 2.5 per cent per year for eligible buildings in 2023.

Landlord says it doesn't negotiate collectively

The building's property manager, GWL Realty Advisors (GWLRA), did not agree to an interview with CBC Toronto. However, in an email, a spokesperson said the tenants' association hadn't responded to the company's most recent email sent on July 31. It also said it had addressed "many of the concerns" raised in a letter from the association sent in April, signed by more than 500 tenants.

But Cynthia Black and Ben Scott, tenants who have helped the association organize, sayGWLRA did not address their chief concern, which is the cost of rent.

In the July 31 email from GWLRA, reviewed by CBC Toronto, the company said it does not negotiate collectively with residents.

"Each rental unit is priced differently, and every person's economic circumstances varies and is highly personal," the email read. Scott says the association never asked for anyone's personal information.

In a separate email to CBC Toronto a corporate spokesperson said the company sets annual rent according to "market conditions" and that many units at the Livmore High Park are "well below actual market rents in the area."

The company did not respond directly to a detailed list of questions for this story.

Scott says he was served with his most recent rent increase in October 2022 that took effect in March of this year. It amounts to about a $1,900 increase for the year, but could have been near $3,000, he says, adding he was offered a longer lease in exchange for a reduced rent increase.

"I'm a single parent. I've got a son who goes to kindergarten in the neighbourhood. What was I supposed to do?"

When he moved in, Scott says he was assured the landlord wanted to keep good tenants and that rent wouldn't increase significantly despite the lack of rent control on the building.

He added that there hasn't been any service, maintenance or amenity improvements in the past year, or any that are planned in the coming year, to justify the increases.

Scott believes their building is a "canary in the coal mine," demonstrating what could happen to tenants living in buildings currently being constructed that won't fall under provincial rent control.

'A parallel problem'

When it comes to a potential rent strike, Black says that's still a possibility for tenants.

She says they've seen how other buildings in Toronto have brought attention to their situation through rent strikes this year. In June, tenants in Weston and Thorncliffe Park went on strike, followed by another group of tenants in North York who stopped paying rent earlier this month.

Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants Association, says tenants will continue to consider rent strikes as prices keep going up.

"If your choice is between a rent strike or the streets, tenants are going to choose a rent strike any day of the week," Dent said.

WATCH | Key concepts for understanding Toronto's chaotic rental market:

Understanding Toronto’s rental market pain points

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Featured VideoToronto’s rental market has several pain points. CBC Toronto’s Shannon Martin speaks to several housing experts to better understand how Canada’s largest city has been pushed into a rental crisis.

Tracy Schmitt is a four-way amputee and wheel-chair user who is also a tenant in the building. She says she was happy to move in last month because the doorways in many older buildings are too skinny for her wheelchair.

But after finding out about the rent increases her neighbours were served, she's worried she'll have to move again. And like many in Toronto, she thinks she won't be able to stay in the city if she can't afford to keep her apartment.

"You're also trapped. You can't just leave and rent somewhere else either, because this is a parallel problem," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lane Harrison

Reporter

Lane Harrison is a journalist with CBC Toronto. He previously worked for CBC New Brunswick in Saint John. You can reach him at lane.harrison@cbc.ca

With files from Sara Jabakhanji

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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